Northwestern Wisconsin shut out of broadband grants

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by Sen. Janet Bewley

The latest round of Broadband Expansion Grant Recipients was announced last week. People across Northwestern Wisconsin joined together to develop plans and submit applications in hopes that a grant would help bring high speed internet to their area.  Chequamegon Communications Cooperative (Norvado) and the Town of Barnes developed a plan, Price County Telephone Company worked with the Town of Windsor on a proposal.  In the end, eight of the 53 applications were from Northwestern Wisconsin and would have benefited the people I have the honor of representing in the State Senate. 

But once again, the hard working folks our area were disappointed.  None of the one and a half million dollars that was awarded will be spent in Northwestern Wisconsin. In fact, 1/3 of that total, 500 thousand dollars, is going to two projects in Madison area communities. 

Some of my colleagues refer to these as Rural Broadband Grants, but that’s not really accurate.  The grants are awarded to “underserved regions of the state.”  Not sure about you, but I think we’re a lot more underserved than people who live in Dane County. 

Two much-needed and well-prepared projects from our area were rated in the top 10 by the professional screening panel that provided recommendations to the state’s public service commission.  Unfortunately, the politically appointed commissioners rejected those recommendations and moved projects – including one that had been rated 47th out of 53 applicants – ahead of our communities.

Left behind was an application for Bayfield County service that screeners rated 5th and would have improved emergency response and 911 service.  On the southern edge of our district, a project for the Town of Hayward that would have quadrupled service for residents was rated 8th but rejected.  And the Chequamegon Coop plan, rated 11th by professional screeners, would have served three times as many businesses and homes but was not among the 13 applicants chosen.

We’ve heard over and over … and over again that expanded broadband grants are intended for communities that need them.  Once those press releases head north, however, that pledge is forgotten.  Disappointingly, the commissioners appointed by Gov. Walker chose projects from three large national telecommunication companies instead.  Those companies just happen to employ 10 lobbyists here in Wisconsin.

I believe it’s time for your tax dollars to come home to you.  I believe that state officials, either elected or appointed, should put your needs ahead of rewarding lobbyists.  And I believe that when a politician promises the people that elected them that they are going to work for them, they should live up to that promise.  When they say that state government spending will benefit everyone in the state, they need to make sure that happens. 

I’ll keep fighting to make sure Northwestern Wisconsin gets its fair share.  But I need your help.  The next time a politician tells you that the program they’re pushing will help you, make sure you ask them exactly how.

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